Conservation Technology Support Program: GIS Experiences from Prior Recipients

The Mountain Institute


Mission Statement: Founded in 1972, The Mountain Institute seeks to preserve mountain environments and advance mountain cultures by promoting worldwide partnerships that create innovative and sustainable solutions to global mountain problems. Protected area initiatives which promote the participatory, park-people approaches developed by The Mountain Institute and its international partners are being implemented in Nepal, Sikkim (India), the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, Peru, Bolivia, and the Appalachians of West Virginia. The Mountain Institute is also serving as the global coordinator of non-governmental efforts to promote the mountain agenda of the Rio Earth Summit's Agenda 21, Chapter 13 ("Sustainable Mountain Development").

As The Mountain Institute grows, we are faced with increasing information dissemination, fund-raising, and outreach needs. Our international headquarters in Franklin, West Virginia has a strong need for an integrated set of maps to show our widely dispersed global project sites. These maps are simple creations from ArcView, which have proven useful in numerous reports, proposals, and outreach activities. Our project site map, with descriptions of our global conservation work in mountains, may be viewed at: http://www.mountain.org/places.html Our map of regional mountain networks which are taking part in the follow-up to the Earth Summit's call for sustainable mountain development may be viewed at: http://www.mtnforum.org/mtnforum/regions/regions/htm

Our GIS capability supports the conservation goals of The Mountain Institute and its partners by better educating people on environmental issues and management options. By publishing maps that highlight critical mountain environmental issues and are targeted at decision-makers, park managers, and the general public, we ultimately seek to enhance the capacity of mountain peoples to protect their natural and cultural heritage, improve their livelihoods, while sustaining local biodiversity.

(Full size World map: 245kb)

Institutional Strengthening: Since the incorporation of the Conservation Technology Support Program (CTSP) grant award, which was received between May 1995 and May 1996, the Mountain Institute has achieved GIS capability. The hardware and software have been set up and successfully configured, and training has been completed. GIS analysis is now an integral part of a growing number of The Mountain Institute's programs. Specifically, our on-going GIS projects include:

Himalayas: Nepal - Biodiversity database for Makalu-Barun National Park and Conservation Area (5 GIS coverages, 9 historic Landsat MSS images and 1 recent Landsat TM image, 1 historic SPOT image and 1 recent SPOT image) - Makalu-Barun and Sagarmatha National Parks, Landsat TM image classification (Lhakpa Sherpa, University of Washington) - Vegetation classification of Makalu-Barun National Park and Conservation Area using SPOT and Landsat TM imagery (Robert Zomer, University of California at Davis) - Tourism impacts and guidelines (planned) for Langtang National Park

Himalayas: Sikkim (India) - Watershed characterization and planned tourist impacts for Sikkim Biodiversity and Ecotourism Project

Himalayas: Tibet Autonomous Region (China) - Land protection planning for Qomolangma Nature Preserve (12 GIS coverages) - Wildlife habitats and ranges in Qomolangma Nature Preserve

Andes (Peru) - Project site map for partner organization, "Pro Naturaleza"

Appalachians (West Virginia, USA) - Spruce Knob Mountain Center Conservation Education and Research Plan (25 GIS coverages and Landsat TM image) - Pendleton County Conservation Education (15 GIS coverages)

International Headquarters (Franklin, West Virginia, USA) - Project site location maps at the global, regional, country, and grant-specific levels

Catalyst and Technical Support to TMI's International Programs

In the heart of the eastern Himalaya, The Mountain Institute is working to nurture the rich diversity of nature and culture nestled beneath the revered Himalayan peaks--Qomolangma, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, Shisha Pangma, Khanchendzonga--six of the highest mountains in the world. Mount Everest, known in Nepali as Sagarmatha, and in Tibetan as Qomolangma, straddles the boundary between Nepal and China. The area surrounding Everest contains a phenomenal wealth of natural diversity ranging from desert plateaus to subtropical jungles and soaring to peaks over five miles above sea level.


Recognized by leading biologists as the "last pure ecological seed" of the Nepal Himalaya, this part of the eastern Himalayan region has been designated one of the ten most threatened biological treasures on Earth. The area is refuge for threatened and endangered wildlife species, including snow leopard, musk deer, red panda, and the Himalayan black bear. Scores of rhodedendron and orchid species are visited by nearly 300 hundred bird species. Dozens of ethnic groups inhabit the valleys and ridges, speaking a variety of languages and practicing distinct religions.


Forging innovative partnerships with local people, conservationists, governments, and the private sector, TMI has initiated a number of projects involving parks and protected areas. We are working with indigenous peoples to protect natural and cultural diversity through community-based conservation efforts. The Mountain Institute joins with partners in the Makalu-Barun National Park and Conservation Area and the Langtang National Park in Nepal, the Qomolangma Nature Preserve in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, and the Sikkim Biodiversity and Ecotourism Project in the northeast Indian state of Sikkim, assisting local people in determining the best ways to manage their lands and resources.

The Makalu-Barun, Qomolangma, and Langtang join borders along with Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) National Park to form a transboundary protected area roughly the size of Switzerland. These areas share many similar goals, related ecosystems, wildlife, and indigenous cultures. However, they also encompass different governments, different administrative systems, different stages of socioeconomic development, and different operational strategies. Their partnership--with one another and with international donors and advisors--demonstrates cooperative working relationships for a planet that is increasingly interconnected environmentally, socially, politically and economically.

An important, and perhaps even the primary function of The Mountain Institute's new GIS capability has been the support and encouragement of our international partners in their own GIS development. A sample survey which was used to introduce our international partners to GIS conservation applications appropriate to their own contexts is included as an attachment. This survey was based on interviews with field personnel from each of our project sites. GIS laboratories are now up and functioning at three of our Asian project sites. All of these labs have benefitted from technical assistance as a result of the CTSP grant. The Mountain Institute's Conservation Mapping Specialist provided technical support for the development of goals and objectives, hardware and software applications, and purchasing support. She also worked closely with program staff to coordinate interns and research activities, share databases between projects, and raise funds. A brief summary of our GIS activities in each region is given below:

Makalu-Barun National Park and Conservation Area, Nepal

The Makalu-Barun GIS approach grew out of the need for a biodiversity database to provide management and applied research information to park decision-makers and community stakeholders. The Makalu-Barun GIS lab is under the direction of Dr. Nanda Joshi. GIS layers now include vegetation types (with some species occurrence data), settlements, streams. More detailed land use/land cover GIS coverages digitized from aerial photographs have just been acquired from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu. An intern from Clark University, Mr. Nick Haan (who is a trainer for the IDRISI project), is spending the summer in Kathmandu assisting The Mountain Institute with GIS activities in the Makalu-Barun and Langtang National Parks.

Two Ph.D. candidates are focussing on GIS applications to park management in the Makalu-Barun, with various levels of support from funds raised by The Mountain Institute. Mr. Lhakpa Sherpa, at the University of Washington, is completing his dissertation on GIS/remote sensing analysis of land use in Makalu-Barun and Sagarmatha National Parks. Mr. Sherpa will be the first of the Sherpa ethnic group in Nepal to attain his doctorate, with significant support provided through The Mountain Institute. Mr. Sherpa has completed the classification of a Landsat TM image of the Makalu-Barun. To illustrate some of the difficulties involved in this classification, the relief in the image varies from less than 500 meters above sea level to the summit of Mt. Makalu (8463 M), the fifth highest mountain in the world. Ecosystems range from tropical riverine forest through all the subtropical and temperate ranges, to subalpine, alpine, and finally ice and rock.

Mr. Robert Zomer, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Davis, has undertaken a dissertation on remote sensing and GIS analysis of Makalu-Barun, using stereoscopic SPOT and Landsat imagery, and extensive ground truthing. His results will be of immediate use to our GIS efforts in Nepal.

In hopes of building our GIS capability to support nature conservation in Nepal, we have submitted a grant proposal to the Danish Embassy in Kathmandu requesting additional support for long-term biodiversity monitoring, including GIS technology.

Langtang National Park, Nepal

The Mountain Institute's ecotourism project in Langtang National Park shares an office with the Makalu-Barun National Park and Conservation Area, including Makalu-Barun's GIS facilities. The Langtang ecotourism staff have completed their planning process and intend to incorporate GIS analysis of tourism effects and GIS maps to encourage responsible tourism during the latter half of 1996.

Sikkim Biodiversity and Ecotourism Project, India

In Sikkim, The Mountain Institute's biodiversity and ecotourism project is allied with the G.B. Pant Institute, which has extensive GIS capabilities. Our project site has recently set up its own GIS and remote sensing lab. The lab is staffed by two outstanding scientists, both with ArcInfo experience: Dr. S.C. Rai (Ph.D. Geography) and Mr. A.P. Krishna (M.Tech. Earth Resources Technology). Through G.B. Pant, this lab has access to SPOT and Indian Remote Sensing imagery and some equipment. Initial GIS analysis has focussed on watershed characterization for land-use/cover and dynamics, EIA, Soil-physiographic relationship information, and drainage basin details using remote sensing. A snow cover characterization of the upper morphogenetic regions of the Teesta River is also underway. Planned applications include site development plans for tourist destinations, to minimize negative environmental impacts and maximize local economic returns. Study exchanges between GIS/remote sensing personnel in Nepal and Sikkim have already taken place.

Qomolangma Nature Preserve, Tibet Autonomous Region, China

The Mountain Institute's assistance to Qomolangma Nature Preserve has included support for the GIS facilities at the Institute of Botany, and training of Tibetan nature preserve managers in GIS. Ms. Chen Zhihang attended the CTSP training in Front Royal last September, and she is now passing on that training to her Tibetan colleagues. The Institute of Botany has developed a GIS database for QNP under the direction of Professor Li Bosheng. This database is being used by park managers (ethnic Tibetans) in the Qomolangma Nature Preserve for land and resource planning. Coverages include core nature zones, buffer zones, periphery zones, roads, vegetation type, lakes, rivers, glaciers, per capita income by county, agricultural production, grazing land, and human settlements.

Rodney Jackson, who also attended the CTSP training, is developing a GIS for the Tibet Autonomous Region in conjunction with his people-wildlife work for The Mountain Institute. He is cooperating with the Snow Leopard Trust and the National Biological Service to produce maps of Tibetan wildlife ranges and habitats. These maps are intended for use by Qomolangma Nature Preserve personnel. He is now in the field with his Tibetan and Chinese colleagues, providing training and gathering ground-truth data for his GIS.

Huascaran National Park, Peru

Huascaran National Park has been practicing "manual GIS", with an excellent cartographer and volumes of mylar. With the assistance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, we hope in the next year to gradually develop more modern GIS facilities. Tourism and grazing management will be the primary GIS application areas.

Featured Projects

The projects we will feature and provide tangible products for are, for several reasons, both U.S.-based. Although the international work of The Mountain Institute takes up most of our personnel and budget, and is perhaps the most immediately appealing to an outside audience, it is both slow and painstaking in actual process. Local capacity-building in isolated, infrastructure-poor developing nations cannot be rushed. We are delighted with the progress to date in GIS development at each of our project sites. In another year's time, we anticipate having some extremely interesting and useful products. Some of these will of necessity remain locally, where they are most needed. In particular, we wish to maintain the trust we have developed over many years with our Chinese and Tibetan colleagues, which means that we cannot make GIS data from sensitive border regions public.

The Mountain Institute's work in the U.S. includes our Appalachian Programs (environmental education, ecological research, conferencing, and workshops at the Spruce Knob Mountain Center) and administration at its International Headquarters Office in Franklin, WV.

Spruce Knob Mountain Center

The Spruce Knob Mountain Center is our 400-acre teaching campus and natural botanical area at the summit of West Virginia's highest mountain. Our staff of outdoor educators teach hundreds of children each year about the value of our Appalachian natural and cultural heritage. The Center is also used for international conferences, study tours, and workshops hosted by The Mountain Institute. Increasingly, scientists from The Nature Conservancy, universities, and federal agencies are using the Center as a research base.

The Mountain Institute has made a commitment to expand the training and research capabilities of the Spruce Knob Mountain Center, and to incorporate the knowledge gained into our environmental education programs. This year two college seniors from West Virginia University worked with The Mountain Institute staff to develop a digital database for the Spruce Knob campus and carry out a GIS analysis to look at long-term management options for the property. Twenty-five GIS coverages including soil type, slope, vegetation, roads, trails, streams, springs, buildings, covenant restrictions, fences, parking, boardwalks and canopy walks were included. Recommendations included designation of special natural areas, research exclosures, demonstration sites, hands-on educational areas, viewshed management from the conference center and dormitories, minimal-impact sites for nature trails and a canopy walk, road re-orientation, additional parking, and many other proposed features.

As The Mountain Institute expands, we are faced with increasing information dissemination, fund-raising, and outreach needs. Our international headquarters in Franklin, West Virginia has a strong need for an integrated set of maps to show our widely dispersed global project sites. These maps are simple creations from ArcView, which have proven useful in numerous reports, proposals, and are now resident on our Home Page at http://www.mountain.org. They include a global site map, regional project sites, and specific country maps for The Mountain Institute and its international partners.

GIS Goals of The Mountain Institute

Our GIS capability supports the conservation goals of The Mountain Institute and its partners by better educating people on environmental issues and management options. By publishing maps that highlight critical mountain environmental issues and are targeted at decision-makers, park managers, and the general public, we ultimately seek to enhance the capacity of mountain peoples to protect their natural and cultural heritage, improve their livelihoods, while sustaining local biodiversity.

Specific objectives of the GIS program are to:

- Develop and maintain comprehensive GIS databases covering physical, biological, socio-economic and environmental themes in support of established Institutional programs in the Himalayas, Andes, and Appalachians, through an interlinked network of facilities that are managed and operated using local expertise.

- Publish digital maps highlighting critical mountain issues for decision-makers, protected area managers, and members of the public.

- Use the integrated database system for environmental planning and monitoring, as well as project monitoring aimed at conserving these unique ecosystems.

- At The Mountain Institute's Spruce Knob Mountain Center, integrate GIS as a critical component of applied ecological research, demonstration, and conservation education programs.

- Strengthen The Mountain Institute's capacity to raise additional funds for biodiversity conservation through the experience and credibility of utilizing GIS.


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Text and graphics: The Mountain Institute
January 2, 1997

Design and Layout: Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc.
January 2, 1997